|There's a good reason this guy looks shell-shocked.|
The Great Big Grudge Match between the St. Louis Cardinals
and the Milwaukee Brewers
got off to a mighty thud of a start yesterday, with the Brewers shellacking the 'Birds 9-6. Things started out okay, but the beating came up in a hurry, courtesy of a six-run fifth inning and a pair of Cardinal pitchers who seem to have gotten confused and mistakenly thought the NLCS comes with a Home Run Derby component just like the All-Star Game.
Here's the deal, Redbird fans: the Cardinals hung six runs on the board in a game started by one of the most talented pitchers in all of baseball, in the opponent's ballpark, in game one of a league championship series. When you come up big against that kind of pitcher in that kind of a situation, with a chance to put the opposition solidly behind the eight ball right off the bat by taking home field advantage away in the first game, you have to win that. Somehow, someway, you have to find a way to turn that into a win.
And guess what? Instead of finding a way to win, the Cards' pitching self-destructed. Plain and simple.
Of the three Cardinal pitchers who gave up runs in this game, Kyle McClellan
concerns me the least. Know why? Because he is not a good pitcher. Period. There's a reason he was left off the roster for the divisional series, and after complaining about the perceived snub he went out and provided solid evidence it wasn't actually a snub so much as it was a stroke of brilliance.
Really, the only thing I worry about with McClellan is that someone will make the statement, "Well, he's been so good for them this year, and it's really only natural he would be rusty after not pitching for so long." At which point I'll ask you loyal readers out there to start up a legal defense fund for me to cover the cost of my assault charges. Now, would I have preferred to see that roster spot used for a player with some actual chance of success? Why, yes, I would. But I don't worry about K-Mac hurting the team, because I just don't think he's really going to get much of a chance to.
Octavio Dotel, now, I have some concerns there. Dotel has actually been very solid for the Cards since being picked up in the trade I won't mention anymore, and that leads to two worries. One, he's been a big part of the reason the Cards' bullpen has been so good down the stretch, and if he turns back into a pumpkin now it hurts the relief corps in a pretty meaningful way. Two, I worry Dotel has pitched well enough to earn himself a big stack of La Russa Bucks and may very well get an extra chance or two -- particularly considering his proven veteranness -- even if he's struggling.
Giving up a home run on the worst hanging slider in the history of hanging sliders to a player who, by most measures, shouldn't be in the big leagues at all (Yuniesky Betancourt), is just the sort of thing a big-time reliever can't do when his team is depending on him to do what big-time relievers do and contain the damage. It's also the sort of thing which seems to happen at especially inopportune moments, largely because the shortstop with the 75 OPS+ usually represents the part of the lineup you figure you're fairly safe in. So yes, I have a certain level of concern with Dotel.
By far, though, the pitcher I'm most concerned with -- and disappointed in -- is Jaime Garcia. Garcia is immensely talented. He's one of the really bright young stars of this Cardinal team. He's also one of my personal favorites, thanks to pitches which occasionally seem to skirt the edges of the laws of physics and some of the most freakishly well-kept facial hair in all of creation. In short, there's plenty to like about Jaime Garcia.
On the other hand, there's one rather large thing to dislike about Jaime Garcia. It's looking more and more all the time like the guy may be a Grade A headcase on the mound, which could very well make all that good stuff he's got going for him kind of moot.
There are two things Jaime Garcia has problems with: pitching on the road and big innings. Not just any old big innings, either; we're talking complete shitting of the proverbial bed; half-bottle of whiskey and six beers at a chili cookoff and we should just burn that mattress sort of messes.
We here all the time how much Garcia struggles to concentrate when his routine is disrupted. Misses a taxi outside the hotel? Jaime's off the rails for the day. Can't throw his warmups at the exact right time? Get ready for a long, long day. Prostitute uses up all the hot water in the shower? Well, that's not really a fair example, because that will ruin anybody's day. Best advice there: just don't let her use the shower. No matter what kind of mess there may be. But the point stands: if Garcia faces any little thing that could be a distraction he can't seem to just let it go and move on.
I suppose one could hope such notions are just the standard BS announcers have been passing off as actual analysis for years now, but it's getting harder and harder all the time to stick to that belief as the losses -- and the frustrating blowups on the road -- mount.
When things are going well for Jaime Garcia, there's no pitcher in baseball you would rather watch. He carves hitters up, works at a lightning-quick pace, and throws the occasional physics-defying changeup I mentioned earlier. When things aren't just exactly perfect, though, whether it be not getting a call on the corner or a seeing-eye bouncer he really should have gotten an out on, Jaime doesn't toughen up and buckle down or any other other overused sportsisms. He tends to blow up completely, going from Tall Latin to White Dwarf in the space of just a few hitters.
And that's what happened yesterday. On the road, so he was already shaky, but cruising along nicely after a rough first inning. The Cardinals were up 5-2 and had their co-ace on the mound. Things were going pretty well. Then up comes Corey Hart with one of those grounders that just finds a hole, and sure enough here comes the bad half of Dr. Garcia and Mr. Hyde. Double by Jerry Hairston. Double by Ryan Braun. Cardinal lead suddenly down to just one run. Batting practice fastball on the first pitch to Prince Fielder, and that one-run lead was a one-run deficit.
Jaime didn't record a single out in the fifth inning while giving up four runs and nine total bases. If you happened to yawn at just the wrong moment you probably couldn't figure out what the hell just went wrong with the scoreboard.
When Jaime Garcia gets in trouble, it snowballs on him. He doesn't reach back and pull out a gem of a pitch to get out of it. He reaches back and grabs a meatball. And vegetarian or no, Prince Fielder clearly hasn't let many meatballs go by in his life.
I really love Jaime Garcia. Seems like a really cool guy, and has truly elite raw talent. But so long as he continues to lose his shit every time things start to get tight, he's going to be a liability to the team instead of the tremendous asset he should be. The Cardinals had a three-run lead and a chance to both make a statement and put the Brewers in a bad spot; rather than put the clamps on Milwaukee and put his name in the St. Louis book of baseball lore Jaime Garcia imploded like a dying star and failed to record an out in the fifth inning of the biggest game of his career.